Bread Stories: Ciabatta

Breads have always intimidated me. How much is too much? What if it doesn’t rise in time? But then, I realized one day that there’s nothing like eating hot, homemade bread on some days and that’s when it all began.

The first time I actually had the courage to get myself to making some was during my first internship in a restaurant bakery and ever since that I fell in love with bread-baking. It’s the best kind of therapy!!

It’s all about science. And every time I bake bread there’s something new I learn in this whole process. I would love to share my experience but I’ll save that for another post soon.

Right now, I’d like to talk about the Italian bread that stole my heart.


Most fondly called the Italian slipper bread, it’s wonderful how it comes to life. It was the only bread made using hands when I was working at the bakery so I guess that’s how it caught my attention.
It is extremely sticky and loose and there are times you may feel you’ve done something wrong but don’t worry. If you find it too runny, add a little more flour but not too much otherwise you will lose the consistency.

Another great thing about this bread is that it is a ‘no-knead bread’. I was reading a recipe from The Kitchn that used the stand mixer and which may be more convenient to some of you’ll but I folded it in thirds which is so much gentler than kneading and also helps to build strength.

This bread doesn’t have to look perfect. It has no shape hence bringing out its rusticity which is such a great thing.

I’ve made a few adjustments to the original recipe based on the weather conditions. If you’re in a place with zero humidity, it could take even close to 24 hours. But adding a bit of sugar helps to fasten the process and hence I did the same.

I also decided to use biga (1/2 cup water+1/2 tsp active-dry yeast+1 cup flour) which is a pre-ferment that gives strength to our weak flours we get in India. I also have realized that gives out a wonderful taste and aroma and breads stay for longer.

To make the biga, first dissolve the yeast in the water. Add the flour and stir to form a thick paste. Give it a good fifty or so brisk stirs to build up the gluten. Cover and let sit at room temperature eight hours or overnight.

The texture of this bread is brilliant. It has a crisp and chewy crust and then a soft spongy crumb with some gorgeous holes.

It is so comforting to have in this weather along with a hot bowl of soup or pasta.

Adapted from The Baker’s Apprentice with Sarah Black

Print Recipe
YES. Breads have always intimidated me. How much is too much? What if it doesn’t rise in time? But then, I realized one day that there’s nothing like eating hot, homemade bread and that’s when it all began. Ciabatta being my current favourite especially in this weather. You've got to try it!!
Course breads
Course breads
  1. Dissolve the sugar and yeast in 1 cup water and leave until you see the yeast frothing a bit.
  2. Scrape the biga into the water and break it up with your spatula or squeeze it between your hands. You don't need to completely dissolve the biga; just loosen it up and break it into stringy blobs.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, sprinkle the salt on top of the flour and stir to incorporate. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the remaining water little by little and mix well so that no lumps form.
  4. After the yeast has dissolved into the warm water, add it to the mixture, stir to incorporate, then stop and let the mixture sit for 30 minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and write the time with permanent marker on the top.
  5. After 30 minutes, sprinkle flour on your work surface, then scrape the dough out onto it. Tap your hands in a little flour, then gently flatten the dough into a rectangle, with the short side facing you. Using a bench scraper, flip the top edge down to just below the center, then flip the bottom side up above the center. Do the same with each side, then turn dough over and dust off the flour. Place the folded dough in a a bowl slicked with vegetable oil and let it sit for 30 minutes, again, covered with plastic wrap with the time written on it.
  6. Fold the dough again, using the same method as above. Place the dough in a second oiled bowl, covered with plastic, and let it ferment until it has doubled in volume, 1 to 2 hours.
  7. As the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 250 degrees C and put a baking stone on the middle rack, and an empty pan (for water) on the bottom rack. After the dough has doubled in volume, sprinkle a little more flour onto your work space. Then, sprinkle a lot of flour onto the back of a baking sheet. Scrape the dough out onto the counter, tap your hands in flour, and gently flatten the dough into a large, even rectangle of approximately 12” x 8” x 1” high. Use a bench scraper or a knife to cut the dough into 4 equal pieces, approximately 3” wide and 8” long. Fold each piece, top-down to center, then bottom-up to above-center, in the same way you folded the dough in step 3. Place each folded piece seam-side down on the floured baking sheet. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and let it rise for 30 to 60 minutes, or until the dough has doubled in volume.
  8. Sprinkle more flour on the counter. Take one ciabatta piece at a time and stretch it very gently to lengthen. Turn it upside-down and place back onto the back of the floured sheet tray.
  9. After all of the pieces have been stretched, sprinkle 4 tablespoons of a mixture of half cornmeal and half flour on the baking stone. Shuttle the ciabatta pieces off the sheet tray and onto the stone. To shuttle, first gently move the sheet tray back and forth to loosen the dough, then, as the pan is held above the baking stone, a quick shake up and down should help slide the dough onto the actual stone. (If you prefer, you can pick up and balance the piece of dough with two hands or even try to move it with the help of a spatula; you just want to get the loaves onto the stone.) Pour water into the pan on the bottom rack in order to make steam; you can also spritz the loaves with water. Avert your face as you pour the water and quickly close the oven door.
  10. The dough should bake to a very dark brown in approximately 30 minutes. Let the bread cool before cutting into it.
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